Hawaii’s Mauna Loa, the world’s largest active volcano, is erupting for the first time in nearly 40 years.
Dozens of earthquakes – one of them measuring 4.2 – flooded the region after the summit caldera of the Mokuaveoveo volcano erupted on Sunday night (November 27). Officials have issued an ashfall warning for Hawaii’s Big Island, and residents have been asked to remain vigilant.
So far, the lava flows from the eruption do not pose a risk to people living under the mountain after the eruption, and air travel is currently unaffected, according to the Hawaii Tourism Agency. (will open in a new tab)
“Currently, lava flows are in the summit area and do not threaten communities located below the slope,” US Geological Survey (USGS) officials wrote in a hazard notice. (will open in a new tab). However, they warned that “based on past events, the early stages of a Mauna Loa eruption can be very dynamic, and the location and progression of lava flows can change rapidly.”
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The alert, issued jointly with the USGS Hawaii Volcano Observatory (HVO), notes that the HVO intends to conduct aerial reconnaissance flights as soon as possible “to assess the hazard and better describe the eruption” and that “winds may carry volcanic gas and possibly fine ashes and Pele’s hair in the wind. Pele’s hair is thin strands of volcanic glass formed from cooling lava that can be blown up by strong winds and are sharp enough to cut skin and eyes.
Mauna Loa occupies more than half of Hawaii’s Big Island and rises 13,679 feet (4,169 meters) above the Pacific Ocean, according to the US Geological Survey. (will open in a new tab). The volcano is quite active, having erupted 33 times since its first well-documented eruption in 1843. Its last eruption occurred in 1984, when a lava flow erupted near the city of Hilo. After that, Mauna Loa entered the longest dormant period in human history. (will open in a new tab).
The warning signs of an eruption have been gradually increasing since September as geologists track a surge in earthquake frequency. It started with five to ten earthquakes per day in June and grew to about 40 per day in October.